Each year brings new phones, tablets, computers, monitors and other electronic gadgets and gizmos. And as we continue to acquire more of them, the problem of what to do when we're done with the old devices gets all the more vexing. According to a new report, nearly 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste was produced around the world last year — and by 2017, that number will jump to a staggering 65.4 million tonnes, equivalent to the weight of 200 Empire State Buildings.
The report comes from an initiative called StEP (Solving the E-Waste Problem), a partnership between various UN organizations, industry groups, governments and science organizations. The centrepiece of the report is a new interactive world map that lets you zoom in on the e-waste output of 184 different countries.
According to StEP, Canada is on the high end of e-waste producers. On average, each Canadian tossed out about 24.7 kg of electronic and electrical devices last year, for a national total of 860,740 tonnes. Still, that pales in comparison to tiny (and wealthy) Luxembourg, where the average person throws out 49 kg of e-waste every year.
“It represents throwing away a tremendous amount of energy that went into making it in the first place,” Miriam Diamond, a professor in the department of earth sciences at the University of Toronto, told the Toronto Star.
“Why won’t these same smart people also find a way that electronics can be used longer or reused in the best way, too?” she said, referring to electronics manufacturers.
The used electronics that rich countries like Canada dispose of in bulk every year often end up in recycling facilities in developing countries. “In a lot of the recycling sector, they are dismantled by hand," said Diamond. "That is a serious threat to health and the environment.”
In terms of total e-waste, the U.S. had the dubious distinction of coming in first, generating 9.4 million tonnes of the stuff last year. In second place was China, with 7.3 million tonnes, due in large part to its huge population. Each person there only throws out an average of 5.4 kg.
“We cannot possibly manage complex, transboundary e-waste flows until we have a better understanding of the quantities involved and the destinations," Joel Clark, Professor of Materials Systems and Engineering Systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in a release. "This research is an important first step in that direction.”
Via The Verge